Editor’s Note: This article was first published by the Environmental Defense Fund, an organization focusing on creating economical policies to support clean air and water; abundant fish and wildlife; and a stable climate. The article was authored by David Festa and originally appeared here.
Technology investors are discovering a new and largely untapped market: farmers in heartland America eager to fly drones, employ robots and crunch big data to boost their business.
In 2017, tech startups in the agriculture sphere raised $670 million to develop software management, big data analytics, automated equipment and other cutting-edge tools that help farmers grow crops with scientific precision, AgFunder reported. Agriculture is one of the last major sectors to experience the digital revolution and it’s a market ripe for growth.
New technology lets farmers manage their fields down to the square foot – tracking plant health, soil moisture and estimated profit in real time. That requires advanced software, sensors and state-of-the-art imaging technology.
To meet such needs, investors raised more money for ag tech startups in 2017 than during the previous two years combined.
Digitized farming the next big thing
Satellite and machine learning technologies help farmers better manage the productivity and efficiency of their operations while reducing their environmental footprint.
Startup FarmShot turns satellite data into high-resolution images that farmers can use to monitor crop health; and pinpoint fertilizer, water and pest management needs. The value proposition is clear, and FarmShot was recently snapped up by Syngenta Ventures, the most active venture capitalist in the farm tech space last year.
Blue River uses machine learning, computer vision and robotics to optimize farm inputs. With this technology, sprayers and other farm equipment can predict and apply the exact amount of fertilizer and herbicides down to individual plants.
If these technologies come to scale, the improvements to agriculture’s climate and water impacts would be tremendous.
Farm management software soon a $1.6 billion market
While it grabs fewer headlines than satellites and machine learning, farm management software is just as important to farmers, investors and the environment. It facilitates the entire ag tech revolution.
A vast majority of American growers plan to invest in such software this year – the first and most critical step toward digitizing their operations. This market alone is expected to soon reach $1.6 billion.
Because they make the promises of big data a reality for time-constrained farmers, software startups have high valuations. Granular, for instance, was purchased by Dupont for $300 million.
Decision management software like Granular’s helps growers analyze and act on hundreds of data points about their operations, making farming more economically and environmentally sustainable.
Farmer-run data startup breaks new ground
Ag tech startups may have first piqued investor interest in Silicon Valley, but precision agriculture startups are expanding rapidly around the country.
In Indiana, father-son duo Steve and Chris Fennig – third and fourth-generation corn and soy growers – built MyFarms. Their ag data solutions startup makes it easier for farmers, ag retailers and consumer-facing companies to integrate, analyze and act on sustainability information.
The Fennigs represent a fresh crop of farmers who will adopt and even develop new technology to meet business and environmental needs.
Expect to see more of that in coming years. There’s a brand new ag world out there, and we can only imagine what comes next.
Julian Rauter interviews Kyle Whyte, a professor of philosophy at Michigan State University and a member of the Citizen Potawotami Nation. They discuss the prospects for Indigenous communities in the era of climate change and how to engage productively on issues of environmental justice across activist and academic frameworks. Dr. Whyte provides insight on how we can work to engender the sustainable principles found in many Indigenous philosophies without disrespecting or romanticizing Indigenous peoples.
World Oceans Day is celebrated annually to bring attention to conservation efforts and to inspire new ones. We need, now more than ever, innovative solutions to ensure the future health of our oceans. Regardless of where one lives, oceans affect the food we eat and the air we breathe. They are also responsible for a significant portion of jobs in the economy. The road to building greater buy-in for protecting oceans is largely through financial mechanisms and approaches. These strategies speak the language of those people and organizations who hold the resources to take action.
The following five innovative strategies can make a great contribution to the future of our oceans.
1. Debt-for-Nature Conversions Focused on Oceans
Debt-for-nature conversions are normally between creditors, debtor nations, and a third party that facilitates the conversion of debt to environmental sustainability projects. These conversions leverage support from development organizations and foundations, identify the interests of investors and governments whilst creating a tool for sustained investment in environmental conservation. Although implementation has been recent, Seychelles has seen success using this financial tool, as have several other countries. Identifying similar opportunities could be a key driver of environmental protection efforts, particularly in vulnerable countries. However, concerns still exist over how to ensure that environmental sustainability projects move forward as promised once the initial transactions are made.
2. Encouraging Local Finance
As a new area with little historical data, local financial institutions may be hesitant to invest in blue growth projects, which relate to sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors. Although development partners could invest, they often lack local expertise. To address these issues, KfW Development Bank, Conservation International, and Finance in Motion came together in 2014 to create the eco.business Fund. The eco.business Fund provides funding for blue projects through local financial institutions, creating trust and familiarity within financing. With time, financial institutions will better understand the risks involved in blue projects and will become more comfortable investing. In the future, development organizations could encourage blue project lending by securitizing loans for blue projects or other innovative partnerships.
3. Organizing Businesses
Local economies have the ability to leverage their influence through investment and financial decisions that support ocean health. As ecotourism and sustainable business practices grow in popularity, businesses will see more value in supporting local conservation efforts. For instance, Punta Cana, a resort based in the Dominican Republic, incorporates sustainability initiatives as a core part of its mission. Other businesses could be engaged in conservation initiatives in exchange for sustainability marketing assistance or under the umbrella of a local business organization supporting ocean health.
4. Building a Market Commodity
Much like carbon credits that are used to conserve forests, ocean health can potentially generate income for governments or be traded within the private sector. Though this has not yet been implemented, the idea is that oceans provide valuable environmental services that could be priced. Furthermore, advanced geospatial information and imagery technologies are making mapping and measuring ocean health easier. These developments in turn make it increasingly possible to value ocean health in dollar amounts, efficiently maximizing use while minimizing environmental damage.
5. Investing in Capacity in the Right Places
International NGOs and multilaterals are positioned to provide capacity building to connect the gap between available finance and bankable projects. For example, tourism (23.3%) and other services together comprise 76.7% of Grenada’s GDP. Much of the country’s tourism relies on healthy oceans: clean beaches, vibrant coral reefs, and ocean wildlife. Building capacity among Grenada’s younger generation will drive local innovation and may provide solutions that can be useful elsewhere around the world.
Conservation efforts are not limited to tree-huggers and do-gooders. Ocean health is an issue that affects all of us. The financial sector can contribute transformational innovations in this area; the interests of environmentalists, investors, and private companies can align when it comes to the oceans. It is more than just shared value, but rather shared responsibility and shared potential.
Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on June 7, 2018.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published by the Environmental Defense Fund, an organization focusing on creating economical policies to support clean air and water; abundant fish and wildlife; and a stable climate. The article was authored by Shannon Cunniff and originally appeared here.
For a long time, coastal resilience was about building sea walls, elevating homes and renourishing beaches to protect people and property against storm surge. Then came satellites, the cloud and a new generation of tech entrepreneurs with bold ideas for tackling a new and urgent challenge: rapidly rising sea levels and increasingly destructive storms.
By using data and technology, these trailblazers are helping us better understand risks and solutions – saving coastal communities money, resources and even lives.
Why send people into the field to monitor the functions of storm-buffering wetlands if a “neural network” can process satellite images for less money and in a fraction of the time – on a user-friendly online dashboard?
Why gamble with development in flood-prone coastal cities when there’s now a startup that can predict such risks from one block to the next, showing where it’ll flood in the next few hours or decades?
They’re turning adaptation into a high-tech affair
What we’re getting is a new level of prediction and precision that will help people, industry, and governments make smarter decisions going forward. This new crop of entrepreneurs is lowering barriers to scientific data and technology, helping their customers monitor the effectiveness of coastal adaptation projects and to minimize risks.
It’s a new and very interesting sector of our economy emerging at just the right time.
Here are some startups and innovative projects in the coastal resilience space you’ll want to keep an eye on.
California-based Upstream Tech uses satellite data and machine learning to show if a conservation project is delivering results. Environmental Defense Fund is exploring whether this tool can be used to validate the performance of wetland restoration in Louisiana, work that is now done by people in the field. Such independent validation is a key aspect of an environmental impact bond we’re designing; it will ultimately determine the interest rate paid to investors.
Jupiter Intel’s models, satellite data and sensors help community planners, developers and city officials anticipate challenges such as sea level rise, erosion and impermeable pavement. The company, which has raised $10 million in venture capital funding so far, can predict flood risks down to specific properties, for the near future and years out.
Coastal Risk Consulting is now providing Florida property owners with actionable intelligence about flood risks. The company predicts tidal flooding, storm surge and heavy rainfall events now and 30 years out, and offers guidance on how to protect properties.
A small Virginia company, Green Stream, is specializing in low-cost flood sensor networks that use ultrasound to track water levels in real time. A dashboard that is free and open to the public shows where flooding is occurring, how deep the water is and when it recedes.
And more are on the horizon as organizations and investors are seeing the value in attracting and nurturing tech startups that help coastal communities create a more sustainable future. An annual pitch competition in New Orleans, for example, awards $10,000 in start-up funding to businesses and nonprofits with ideas for improving water management.
As we seek to build smarter and stronger coasts, look for more tech entrepreneurs like these to provide a significant lift. By democratizing data and adding emerging technology to the mix, they’re helping individuals and communities plan ahead and stay safe.
Imagine you are an engineer tasked with building a bridge. On your first day on the job you are handed a blueprint, but discover that a critical tool is missing to carry out the work effectively. This is the conundrum faced by the gender and environment field. The blueprint is in place in the form of numerous international agreements to address gender inequalities in environmental and sustainable development arenas. But an important tool to address women’s and men’s relationship to the environment—sex-disaggregated data and information—is virtually nonexistent. Not having this information makes it difficult to implement these agreements to address gender inequality.
Why is this missing information a problem? Without a full picture of the relationship that women and men have to biodiversity, agriculture, water, energy, and other resources, it is impossible to design effective solutions. More comprehensive information shines a light on what individuals and communities value most. It enhances environmental policies and programming, and targets resources more effectively. In the absence of this information, initiatives meant to tackle poverty or protect environmental resources could end up not meeting their goals, and possibly having negative impacts.
Tackling the invisibility of gender in the environmental arena is a driving force behind the creation of the Global Gender and Environment Outlook(GGEO). Through the GGEO, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) took stock of global quantitative and qualitative information at the intersection of gender and environment. Compiling this information into one resource for the first time provides an important baseline for the Sustainable Development Goals, and will aid in UNEP’s environmental assessment processes.
What data did we find on gender and environment? As outlined below, a limited number of datasets that cover many countries, numerous studies focused on one country or small geographic area, and overall a concerning lack of information about this field.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published by the Environmental Defense Fund, an organization focusing on creating economical policies to support clean air and water; abundant fish and wildlife; and a stable climate. The article was authored by Dick Munson and originally appeared here.
California and New York often steal the spotlight on clean tech innovation, but those in the know are keeping their eye on Illinois.
The energy sector has been undergoing rapid change in the Land of Lincoln, thanks to a slew of innovative initiatives. Illinois’ buildings are more efficient, its electric grid more modern and its electricity use smarter – and the state is just getting started.
LEED-certified buildings: Illinois beats most states
The building retrofit industry is now valued at $20 billion and Illinois is paying attention. The state topped the list of most LEED-certified buildings 2013–2015 and has remained in the top five since.
The state is tapping into a huge opportunity: buildings that went up long before modern energy codes were adopted and now need efficiency updates. Today, powering all of the buildings in the United States costs more than $400 billion a year and there is room for huge savings.
Emission cuts: Chicago’s largest buildings down 20%
Chicago’s annual Energy Benchmarking Report has been tracking building energy performance isince 2013, an example of the city’s commitment to energy efficiency.
Over the past two years, Chicago’s largest buildings decreased emissions by nearly 20 percent [PDF], and buildings have saved more than $39 million from lower energy use, the report found.
Energy use: Pilot project tracks decisions in real time
Equipment operators at 10 large Chicago buildings are learning how their day-to-day decisions affect energy use.
The collaboration between Environmental Defense Fund, the Accelerate Group and the state’s largest electric utility, ComEd, is combining real-time information, hour-by-hour energy-use targets and financial incentives. Our goal: to help building operators make more energy-efficient choices.
Grid modernization: Illinois at the forefront
In the most recent Grid Modernization Index, which ranks states in terms of state support, customer engagement and grid operations, Illinois came in second of all states. It’s easy to see why.
As Illinois continues to invest in smart meters and other grid modernization efforts, the state’s utilities want to know the effect such investments have. Illinois was first in the country to adopt a new tool that calculates clean air benefits from advanced meters and other investments.
An energy data-sharing program for ComEd, approved in 2017, also gives companies and researchers access to anonymous energy-use data from ComEd’s nearly 4 million smart meters.
Data from more than 300,000 homes has already revealed that 97 percent of electricity customers would have saved money in 2016 with real-time power prices – without any changes to their electricity use.
Microgrids: Tariff will break new ground
An unprecedented agreement in Illinois is set to create a first-of-its-kind tariff that will let non-utility third parties develop and manage microgrids with the option to use ComEd’s wires and poles.
This decision will facilitate a whole new kind of microgrid, with the opportunity for entrepreneurs and other new players to help build out such systems.
Utilities have traditionally been the gatekeepers of the infrastructure needed to accelerate development and reluctant to share or relinquish control. Soon, ComEd’s new tariff could set a new precedent.
We could go on and on about all the ways Illinois is using technology, data and innovation to break down barriers and create a system where buildings and the grid are both smart and efficient.
California and New York are making moves, for sure, but the Midwest is proving itself a real contender on clean energy progress, innovation and investment.
24 April 2013, Dhaka, Bangladesh. A commercial building hosting several European and American garment and textile factories literally collapsed. 17 days of incessant search, 2,438 people evacuated. 1,129 victims, 2,500 injured, many of them with permanent impairments. Judicial charges currently pending, no victim has been compensated so far.
At the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy – known as the deadliest disaster in the garment industry – the question of whether multinational corporations should be held accountable for human rights violations is one of the most controversial debates within the international community. Indeed, only states are traditionally bound by international norms, which include human rights obligations. As a result, corporations’ activities remain one of the most illustrative examples of the constant clash between private and public interests.
Why does it seem urgent to bind corporations to respect human rights? Do we need human rights norms to have justice in the corporate world? After all, corporations can be held accountable before a national judicial body just by framing a claim for tort or criminal offences. This is absolutely correct and is the main function of domestic legal orders.
The problems arose, nonetheless, when companies started spreading their activities worldwide: terms such as “transnational corporations”, “parent companies”, “subsidiaries”, “place of incorporation” entered into common vocabulary. As a consequence, the adjudicative process by domestic courts was rendered complex, unpredictable and mutually conflicting. In many cases, courts rejected jurisdiction by evoking the bugbear of non-interference in sovereign states’ internal affairs. They did so precisely because they were unable to establish the link between the company, the abuses perpetrated and the court’s judicial competences (traditionally circumscribed within the borders of individual states). The result? No remedy for human rights victims.
Individuals and communities are empowered to go before French civil courts in cases where corporations do not comply with these two fundamental requirements or when there are damages that could have been avoided with an effective plan. Hence, this legal instrument operates both as an ex-post judicial mean and – more importantly – as a deterrent against negligent or harmful behaviors that may expose the company to legal, financial and reputational risks.
This preventive function is deemed a considerable step to meet the requirements of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP), which is a soft law instrument that has been developed by the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, John Ruggie, and obtained wide endorsement in the international community. The second pillar of the principles states that corporations have “direct corporate responsibility to prevent and mitigate human rights impacts through their own activities and as a result of their business relationships”. Interestingly, principle 14 of the UNGP’s second pillar offers a sort of “loophole” for corporations, stating that their responsibility may vary according to their “size, sector, operational context, ownership and structure”. In this sense, the French Law is more stringent, as it explicitly covers directly or indirectly controlled subsidiaries, subcontractors and suppliers. This may put an end to complex corporate structures that are created ad hoc to minimize liabilities, but it also imposes the obligation to constantly monitor the entire company’s supply chain.
So, what if the Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law had existed before the Rana Plaza tragedy occurred? French companies whose suppliers or subcontractors were located in the Rana Plaza building would probably have had a Vigilance Plan for detecting existing or potential human rights impacts in their supply chain. Through this plan, they would have mapped the human rights risks, formalized monitoring and alert mechanisms, developed partnerships with relevant stakeholders (for example, trade unions) and implemented actions to prevent injuries, as mandated by Article 1 of the law.
Although some issues still need to be tackled according to business and human rights experts (especially the effective access to French courts by foreign individuals), the Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law certainly provides a good legal framework for corporate self-assessment over their entire supply chain. Monitoring both positive and negative consequences connected to corporate activities is the first step for preventing future tragedies. The French law offers a chink of light five years later the Rana Plaza collapse.
 The Law covers companies established in France that at the end of two consecutive financial year employ 5 thousand employees in their head office and in its direct or indirect subsidiaries whose head office is located in France; OR companies which employ ten thousand employees within the company and in their direct or indirect subsidiaries whose head office is located in France or abroad.
Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on May 24, 2018.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published by the Environmental Defense Fund, an organization focusing on creating economical policies to support clean air and water; abundant fish and wildlife; and a stable climate. The article was authored by Jim Marston and originally appeared here.
When a California battery company officially moved its headquarters and manufacturing to Kentucky coal country last week, generous state tax subsidies certainly played a role – but so did something often lost in the debate about coal.
Struggling coal mining towns offer an abundance of highly trained workers, many of whom are eager for new opportunities and stable jobs. Mine work today requires mechanical and technical skills that are transferable to new industries, a fact that companies inside and outside the energy sector are beginning to discover in America’s tightening labor market.
Needed: 875 Kentuckians with machinery and robotics skills
Let’s hear it from EnerBlu, the Los Angeles-area energy storage company that plans to invest $400 million in eastern Kentucky and may eventually hire 875 people in Pikeville, the heart of Appalachia coal country.
The region offers a “workforce with strong understanding of Direct Current power, complex machinery and robotics operations in production environments,” EnerBlu noted in a recent blog post. And because Pikeville is rooted in the challenging coal industry, the company wrote, it has a population with a strong work ethic, loyalty and tenacity – all qualities employers look for.
Wind company looks to coal workers for grit and endurance
Strong worker attributes help explain why a wind turbine manufacturer and service company is offering free wind technician training courses to laid-off coal workers and other job seekers in a fossil-rich part of Wyoming.
Goldwind Americas, a Chinese company, is expecting to provide up to 850 large wind turbines in the state and needs technicians to maintain them. It’s a tough job and coal miners who are used to challenging work environments may have just what it takes.
It may also explain why companies such as CSX and LockHeed Martin have hired former coal workers after they completed a mere 60 days of retraining.
Only 53,000 coal jobs left and outlook is grim
Contrary to President Trump’s hollow rhetoric about reviving coal jobs, the industry is continuing its long, slow demise. And yet, many coal workers continue to hold out hope.
Mining has provided a solid and good-paying livelihood for generations of families. For these workers, the collapse of the coal industry is painful and personal. You can’t blame them for responding to Trump’s empty promises about coal.
But change is in the air.
From coal fields to solar rooftops and coding
Dan Conant, the young founder of Solar Holler in West Virginia partnered with a non-profit to train people in coal field communities for new careers in an unexpected business: rooftop solar installation.
So far, at least 30 people under the age of 25 have gone through the program. Many are the sons and daughters of coal workers who are looking for new opportunities in a growth industry, Conant said. Sollar Holler has also trained several former coal workers who, with freshly minted technician skills, can now find openings in West Virginia’s budding solar industry or anywhere in the United States.
Back in Pikeville, meanwhile, a start-up software and development company called BitSource has already hired nine former coal workers who had to show an interest in process, be logical thinkers and able to spend hours in front of a computer. Some of the miners BitSource hired had spent 20 years in the mine; now they code.
The Paris Agreement, which entered into force in November 2016, is considered a monumental accomplishment. It represents a step towards addressing climate change at an international level. Beyond the significant political message that it sends, it contains several commitments that require practical action. One outcome is the development of Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, which are pledges made by each country. The NDCs specify targets that each country shall strive for in order to reach the collective goal of staying below a 1.5/2-degree Celsius temperature increase, compared to pre-industrial levels. Another key outcome of the Paris Agreement is the promise from developed countries to contribute USD 100 billion to support developing countries in reaching the conditional parts of their NDCs.
A lot and a little has happened since Paris: Brexit; the upset presidential election in the United States, resulting in its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement; and rising concern over growing nationalist sentiments across the Western world, among other major changes in the global political economy. Within this context, progress in global climate negotiations is like turning around a tanker – it takes time. Although it has been almost three years since COP21, it has not yet been two years since the Paris Agreement entered into force and it won’t be implemented until 2020.
The five years from 2015 to 2020 have been blocked out to complete two important tasks. The first task is to create a rulebook for how to implement the Paris Agreement. The second task is for countries to review their NDCs and increase their ambition; currently, the action promised through the NDCs will not be enough to reach the 1.5/2-degree goal.
Globally determined rules for Nationally Determined Contributions
Putting together the rulebook, which has been ongoing since COP22 in Marrakech, has been discussed during the meetings of the Subsidiary Bodies, or the SBs. Less well-known than the Conference of the Parties, or the COPs, the SBs are more technical, letting Ministers stay at home and save their energy for the upcoming political shows of COPs.
The 48th meeting, otherwise known as SB48, took place over two weeks from 30 April to 10 May in Bonn, Germany. The meeting location was the headquarters of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC), which facilitates climate negotiations.
Not enough has been accomplished in developing the rulebook. Before it can be presented at COP24 in Katowice, negotiators will likely meet again in Bangkok in August or September to sort out the final details. Another concern relates to whether or not the rules for implementation of the Paris Agreement fairly represent the interests of all signatories. Countries must provide their own funding to send negotiators, which puts lower-income countries at a disadvantage when they cannot justify sending delegations to advocate their country’s position. A further challenge that is inherent to the consensus model of negotiations under the UNFCCC is that many days are spent deliberating over specific language; the aim is to ensure that everyone is agreeable to exact words. This requirement not only slows the process, but often weakens the agreed upon text to the lowest common denominator, which ultimately may not say much of substance.
While the rulebook to guide NDC implementation is not final, it is difficult to judge its effectiveness. More concrete assessments will be possible once it has been shared at COP24 in Katowice, Poland in December 2018.
NDCs are not a one-man show
As documents outlining mitigation and adaptation targets, the NDCs range from last-minute, one-page documents submitted under the deadline to detailed reports identifying specific carbon reductions backed up by country-level emission data. As countries begin to examine their first NDCs as part of the ongoing process to increase ambition (a process called the Talanoa Dialogue), it is becoming clear that no single country can follow through on their commitments alone.
This interdependence is rooted in several factors. On a basic level, many countries do not have the funds to pay for the actions necessary to reduce their emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. When countries do have funds—through their own national sources, official development assistance, investment, and financial assistance from multilateral development banks—they might lack the capacity, technical assistance, and/or technology.
As 2020 approaches—the time when NDCs should be reviewed and implementation should begin—countries are realizing what it means to take serious action against climate change. Countries can be as ambitious as they want, but the harsh reality is that implementing the existing NDCs will be a challenge; it will be even more of a challenge to implement more ambitious NDCs; and it will be extremely challenging to reach the 1.5/2-degree goal that is stated in the Paris Agreement. Reaching these goals won’t be possible unless countries, international organizations, and the private sector find the generosity to share financing, technology, information, knowledge, and human capacity.
Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on May 17, 2018.
Writer, environmentalist, and activist Terry Tempest Williams shares advice for budding conservationists. Williams also discusses her college experience, career path, interdisciplinary interests, and hopes for the future.